Victory for Lesbian Woman


Americans United for Separation of Church and State and Lambda Legal, together with the law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, today declared victory on behalf of Kelly Easter, an East Nashville, Tenn., woman who for more than two years had been denied the opportunity to foster refugee children through a federally funded program solely because she is a lesbian. After she filed a federal lawsuit, Easter v. HHS, the taxpayer-funded agency involved – the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) – told the federal government it no longer has a religious objection to working with a single lesbian foster parent and has allowed Easter the opportunity to provide a safe and loving home for refugee children.

Because Easter is now being allowed to participate in the program through the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), she is voluntarily dismissing her case for the time being against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and several HHS officials in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Camilla Taylor, deputy legal director for litigation at Lambda Legal:

The federally funded child welfare agency finally has allowed Kelly to apply to foster a refugee child, and she is in the process of becoming licensed. While we are glad that Kelly is now permitted to participate in a federal program and a refugee child may find a loving home with her, it is a shame that USCCB and ORR fenced her out for almost two years, and required her to file a lawsuit before determining that USCCB’s religious objections to her identity were flexible. Two years is a long time for a refugee child without a loving home. Congratulations to Kelly for overcoming discriminatory obstacles, and for her tenacity in pursuing her dream of providing a safe and loving home for a child in need.”

​Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United:

“This is a win for religious freedom, Kelly Easter and the vulnerable refugee children she’ll now be able to help. But it’s a victory that should not have taken two years to achieve. The federal government should never allow a taxpayer-funded agency to discriminate against prospective foster parents because they don’t live according to its religious beliefs. Our laws cannot allow anyone to use their religious beliefs to harm others, and especially not vulnerable children and the commendable people like Kelly who want to help them.”

​Plaintiff Kelly Easter:

“Providing a loving, nurturing home for a refugee child is my desire. All qualified individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation, should be encouraged to adopt, so these children may receive the best possible chance at finding a stable home. This is what I’ve wanted all along.”

While this is a victory for Easter, it’s only a partial win in the fight to ensure the federal government does not continue to sanction or enable discrimination against prospective LGBTQ foster parents by organizations that receive taxpayer funds to care for unaccompanied refugee children. USCCB’s policy may now permit single LGBTQ parents to foster children, but the agency still discriminates against married same-sex couples like Fatma Marouf and Bryn Esplin. The couple was rejected by a USCCB sub-grantee in Texas because, as a married same-sex couple, they didn’t “mirror the Holy Family” as the agency requires. Lambda Legal and Americans United also represent Marouf and Esplin in the federal lawsuit Marouf v. HHS.

Case Background

The Easter v. HHS lawsuit was filed in October 2021 against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, along with several HHS officials and programs.

Kelly Easter wishes to become a foster parent for a child in a federal foster care program for immigrant children. Her 2020 inquiry to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) was directed to the only entity participating in the program in her area: Bethany Christian Services, a sub-grantee of the USCCB, which receives federal funds to provide foster care services. Bethany refused to permit Easter to apply to be a foster parent solely because she is a lesbian.

Easter reported this discrimination to ORR. When Bethany’s national leadership announced in 2021 that it had changed its policy and would now accept LGBTQ families, Easter again attempted to apply. However, a representative from Bethany informed her that she still would not be permitted to apply to the program near her home because Bethany operates that program as a sub-grantee of USCCB, which continued to exclude LGBTQ foster parent applicants from participation. In late February 2022, USCCB informed the federal government that Easter’s exclusion had all been a misunderstanding and it will now work with single LGBTQ foster parents.

For years the federal government had known that USCCB discriminates and requires its sub-grantees to discriminate against LGBTQ foster parent applicants, reducing the number of available homes for children in need, and sending a damaging message to LGBTQ adults and children alike that there is something wrong with their families. Yet HHS officials continue to enable and sanction this discrimination against married, same-sex couples.

In addition to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, also named as defendants in Easter v. HHS were ORR and the Administration for Children and Families, as well as HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, ACF Acting Assistant Secretary Jooyeun Chang and ORR Director Cindy Huang.

The legal team representing Kelly Easter includes, at Lambda Legal, Camilla B. Taylor, Karen L. Loewy and M. Currey Cook; at Americans United, Richard B. Katskee and Kenneth D. Upton, Jr.; and at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, Seth Harrington, Daniel A. Rubens and Andrew D. Silverman.

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people, and everyone living with HIV through impact litigation, education, and public policy work.

Americans United is a religious freedom advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the nonprofit organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Related Articles Around the Web
Photo courtesy of KimChi Chic Beauty

Trixie Mattel and Kim Chi Makeup Collaboration


Keep reading Show less
Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville

Rumble Boxing Gulch, Nashville


Keep reading Show less
Photo courtesy of ANIRUDH on Unsplash

Mjolnir

Like many of the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe films, LGBTQ+ fans awaited the release of Thor: Love and Thunder in open anticipation of the inclusivity that both Marvel and Disney had promised. However, the fans were only setting themselves up for disappointment when the film was finally released.

Despite passionate assurances from studio heads to key actors, Thor: Love and Thunder was NOT spectacularly gay. It wasn’t even that good…

Premiere Night Promises

A bolt of lightning cuts across a rainbow on a dark and stormy night.

Lightning bold across the sky

Photo by Bill D.

Standing on the red carpet at the London Premiere of the film, director and actor Taika Waititi and fellow cast members Natalie Portman and Tessa Thompson were offered up the inevitable question: “How gay is the film?

Amidst some laughter from the crowds, Waititi gestured towards Portman to respond. The actress (who plays Thor’s love interest, Jane Foster, throughout the franchise) raised the microphone to her lips and thought for a moment, before delivering a quiet yet fateful: “So gay!

Barely a moment had passed before the gathered fans went wild and Taika Waititi gave his own verdict: “Super gay!”. Tessa Thompson made no statement on the ‘gayness’ of the film, instead opting to swing her microphone around suggestively. As more cheers erupted, a second round of “super gay” slipped out of Waititi’s mouth, before he urged the fans to enjoy the film.

Thor: Love and Thunder’s LGBTQ+ Potential

Thor’s movie-goers were definitely hyped up for a gay extravaganza and they had a specific character in mind. The fan-favorite Valkyrie, played by Tessa Thompson, stumbled her way into the MCU during Thor’s third film, Ragnarok. The Asgardian warrior won many people over with her wit, sarcasm, and pure badassery.

After the events of Avengers: Endgame *spoilers*, Thor Odinson gives up his claim to the throne of Asgard and names Valkyrie as king in his stead. This left many fans excited to see what would become of the character, especially after certain revelations were made at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con:

“As a new king, she has to find her queen. So that’ll be her first order of business.”

With these words, Tessa Thompson threw her LGBTQ+ fans into a frenzy, with heavy expectations for the then-upcoming fourth installment of the Thor films. Indeed, in an interview with the LA Times, shortly before the film's release, Tessa Thompson was asked to comment on the sexuality of her character. She responded with several promising remarks, including “there’s a lot of folks that are righteously very hungry for that representation to exist in these movies, as am I”.

*Warning: spoilers ahead!*

So, How Gay Was Thor 4?

To put it simply: not gay at all. Not only did Valkyrie end up without a fabulous new queen, her non-heteronormative sexuality only got the barest mention (a brief line about a previous, now dead, girlfriend). Valkyrie may have made bedroom eyes at some pretty ladies before an action scene spoils the moment, but that’s about as much as we get.

The film does get some credit for introducing a trans character in a minor yet significant role. Thor returns to his people (after a brief stint as a Guardian of the Galaxy) only to find out that the daughter of one of his closest (and deceased) friends is now a boy. The issue is, whether due to personal prejudice or some alien inability to grasp the concept of being transgender, it does take Thor a frustrating few moments to come to terms with the change. And to stop deadnaming.

In fact, the only concession to the queer community was Taika Waititi’s extraterrestrial character Korg finding a husband in one of the closing scenes. This heartfelt moment was somewhat underscored by the revelation that Korg’s entire species is male, meaning he had no other choice but to be ‘gay’.

This Is Not Marvel’s First Queerbaiting Attempt

Close up of an eye reflecting an unknown scene as a rainbow crosses the image.

Photo by Harry Q.

This is, by far, not the first time that LGBTQ+ fans have been sorely disappointed by the workings of Marvel and Disney. In fact, people across many social media platforms have been chiding expectant viewers for once again falling for classic queerbaiting tactics. “Being queerbaited by the MCU is like being a golden retriever with a human who always pretends to throw the ball”, one Tumblr user declared.

Captain Marvel, starring Brie Larson, was the perfect moment for the MCU to introduce its first lesbian lead. Larson’s character seemed to have an intense relationship with another woman, going so far as to help raise her child (before Larson’s Carol Danvers disappeared from Earth for 6 years). Despite leaning into several romantic tropes, the status of their relationship was never fully fleshed out. However, it was also the franchise’s first female-led superhero movie, so maybe they thought that introducing her as a lesbian would make the film too awesome.

The heavily anticipated Avengers: Endgame was also slated to introduce the MCU’s ‘first gay character'. While many fans were excited, particularly as this would be the second of Larson’s appearances on screen, the big gay build-up was a massive letdown. The film’s director Joe Russo made a cameo as a blip survivor mourning the loss of his husband. A five-second throw-away scene that had no impact on the outcome of the film. Big whoop...

Even when we did see a film with a gay lead, The Eternals, there were also ten other straight leads. At that point, it just seemed more like basic probability than an attempt at pushing LGBT+ superheroes into the spotlight.

Why Can’t Disney Let Marvel Be Gay?

The big problem with allowing a few characters to be anything other than cishet is that there are still many countries in the world that outlaw homosexuality. As much as we like to think that the MCU is being made for comic book fans, we all know the purpose of the films is to make money for Disney. And without certain markets in Asia and the Middle East, Disney wouldn’t be raking in up to (and over) one billion dollars per theatrical release.

Is There Any Hope For LGBTQ+ Fans In The MCU’s Future?

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the second in the much-loved Black Panther arc, will be released in cinemas this November. The studio has confirmed that the film will contain a queer character. Actress Michaela Coel will play Aneka, a warrior, and trainer of the king’s guard. Whether or not her diversity will stand out in the film (let alone endure for more than a 10-second scene that can be easily cut) remains to be seen.


Next year’s The Marvels film, starring Brie Larson, Iman Vellani, and Lashana Lynch may offer the MCU a chance to redeem itself in the eyes of its LGBT+ fans. The studios may feel it’s finally time to offer us the heartwarming lesbian relationship between Larson’s Carol Danvers and Lynch’s Maria Rambeau that seemed to be teased in the first Captain Marvel. Don’t raise your hopes too high, though, as you may yet end up as a stubborn golden retriever waiting for a cinematic universe to finally throw that rainbow ball.